Growing up in urban India, my connection with nature was bleak. The occasional encounters with the rural way of living while visiting my grandparents farm was neither appealing. Perhaps, my remotest connection to nature happened when I studied food processing in my bachelors. It was an exciting time. Yet by the end of it I realized my study was very much theoretical and alienated from experiential learning.
During the same time farmers’ suicides came into lime light in a big way. As a food technologist it was beyond my comprehension how people who are producing the raw food are so much in distress. To find out the ground realities I took a gap year after bachelors. I spent the year with farming communities seeing things from their perspective by simply living their life, waking up to work in the fields, eating their food, experiencing their joys and sorrows of life and sleeping under the open sky without having a phone or internet. Recalling those days now fills me with joy and also raises concerns about rapidly changing times.
Agriculture and farmers are usually neglected in the course of development. The farmers’ problem isn’t necessarily an economic, ecological, political or social one but largely a mental problem. Centuries of systemic exploitation of farmers has made them accept the fate of destiny without realizing it is human induced and not due to nature’s vagaries. They have literally given up on the hope that things can be changed and it is in their hands.
In this process, I also found that we are all taken care of by nature since our birth and even after growing up we do not repay back by conserving what all nature has to offer. Being a food enthusiast, I took up the task of growing my own food in a natural way respecting nature and its biodiversity. I find it surprising that in spite of an urban upbringing and having zero experience in gardening, I could effortlessly grow different vegetables, spices, oilseeds, grains, pulses, tubers and fruits in the first attempt while also reviving traditional methods of processing, preservation and cooking.
In my quest for true sustainability, I found the lifestyle of our forefathers ideal. It was a life lived with nature without any special efforts as all the day-to-day activities were cyclical, continuously refined, perfected and handed down through generations. Practicing natural farming made me realize the importance of knowing earthen construction to make grain storage structures. That’s how building with mud, bamboo, grass and natural materials from the surroundings came into my world. While plastering the walls of my studio with mud, I found the color of earth gloomy and dark. In my search to brighten up the space using natural means, I was drawn into the magical world of natural colors. I learnt how the soil, stones, flowers, leaves and other plant parts around us can be used to beautify our clothes, walls and lives.
I found many things missed out to complete the circle of life, the circularity and interconnectedness of things in nature. Living on a farm in a mud house, eating food grown around you and having cotton clothes dyed with herbs does not guarantee you won’t fall sick. I realized that if we do not know what the human body is and how it functions, perfect health and well-being cannot be secured. We spend decades of precious life years memorizing facts which can be easily learnt in a few years if done holistically in the lap of nature.
In mainstream ecology, we tend to see humans as the root cause of all troubles on the planet. So, if humans are the problem, the solution has to come from us as well, necessitating meeting human needs of survival while undertaking ecological restoration. We as humans tend to focus so much on survival and materialistic needs that we forget to appreciate life and cherish the present moment. Entertainment, arts and crafts are as crucial as food, medicine and shelter for human existence. While everyone may not be an art or craft lover, we cannot imagine our life without color. It is a psychological need.
People in the past and even today are doing commendable work in various fields while we hardly have platforms where interconnections of life are kept in the focus. We are lacking initiatives where a holistic approach is favored over specified goals or objectives. So, I envisioned Aanushrav as a platform for individuals to connect, collaborate and find ways to live and work in peaceful co-existence with nature and its life forms. We have food and agriculture, design and construction, clothing and textiles forming the core areas and health and healing, education and ecology, arts and crafts forming the complementary areas of focus.